North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has suspended plans for military action against the South, state media reported Wednesday in an apparent sudden dialing-down of tensions after Pyongyang blew up a liaison office.
In recent weeks, Pyongyang has issued a series of vitriolic condemnations of Seoul over anti-North leaflets, which defectors based in the South send across the border – usually attached to balloons or floated in bottles.
Last week it blew up a liaison office on its side of the border that symbolized inter-Korean rapprochement, while its military said it would take multiple measures against the South.
The moves included re-entering areas of the North that it had withdrawn from as part of inter-Korean projects, restoring guard posts in the Demilitarized Zone that forms the border and stepping up exercises.
But the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said Kim on Tuesday presided over a Central Military Commission meeting that “suspended the military action plans against the south.” It did not elaborate.
The North also began removing loudspeakers on Wednesday from border areas, which they had started setting up only two days ago to broadcast anti-South propaganda, the South’s Yonhap news agency reported, citing unnamed sources.
The apparently conciliatory moves by Pyongyang are unusual, and come after analysts said it was seeking to manufacture a crisis on the peninsula in an effort to extract concessions.
Seoul had retorted with uncharacteristically stern criticism to Pyongyang’s blowing-up of the liaison office and harsh condemnation of President Moon Jae-in by Kim’s sister Kim Yo Jong, saying it will “no longer tolerate” the North’s “unreasonable acts and words.”
But the nuclear-armed North “is by no means done threatening South Korea or bolstering its so-called deterrent,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
“The Kim regime had domestic political boxes to check and may be presently satisfied with public unity.”
Inter-Korean relations have been in a deep freeze following the collapse of a summit in Hanoi between Kim and US President Donald Trump early last year over what the nuclear-armed North would be willing to give up in exchange for a loosening of sanctions.
The impoverished country is subject to multiple UN Security Council sanctions over its banned weapons programs.
Since early June, Kim Yo Jong has been the face of Pyongyang’s highly aggressive stance toward the South over anti-North leaflets.
The North blew up the liaison office after she warned days before that it would soon be seen “completely collapsed,” and later she called the South’s Moon – who has long favored engagement with Pyongyang – “disgusting” and apparently “insane.”
Pyongyang has also said it has millions of anti-Seoul propaganda leaflets ready to send to the South as retaliation.
“Having someone else speak for the regime also gives Kim Jong Un the option of adjusting course,” said Easley.
“He may do so in search of external concessions or because his military needs more time to implement the next provocation.”